Ensemble for Medieval Music. Benjamin Bagby, Director

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Fragments for the End of Time

Gaude celestis sponsa

Instrumental piece based on Frankish sequence melodies (9th century)
Source: München, clm.10075 xiii in / Reconstruction: N. Rodenkirchen (with additonal materials from other Frankish sequences)

The sequence melodies dating from the time of Notker, monk of St. Gall (9th century), were sometimes written in the early manuscripts as textless sequelae. The exact pitches of these melodies can only be determined by consulting later sources, which are consistent over the centuries and give us a rather clear image of the tunes. It is highly likely that these sequelae were also performed instrumentally, as the melodies pre-date the texts of the sequences and they are not taken from Gregorian chant; they are perhaps survivors of a pre-Christian, indigenous melodic tradition. In the ex tempore interludes performed on the flute in this program, Norbert Rodenkirchen is principally interested in exploring the evident relationships amongst various early medieval sequences. These relationships, which often can be reduced to a handful of archtypical phrases, point to an orally-transmitted repertoire of archaic ‚ur-sequences’ which are reflected upon here in improvised instrumental practice. The central material is provided by the sequence Gaude coelestis sponsa, also known as Adducentur

Thaer waes swylcra fela

‚The Lay of the Last Survivor’ from the Beowulf-Epic (Anglo-Saxon, ca. 8th century)
Source: London, BL, Cotton Vitellius A. XV. / Reconstruction: B. Bagby

The end of a people, the bitter confrontation with the loss of all friends, family, possessions and memories, can be seen as a microcosm of the end of the world. In this fragment (extracted from the Beowulf epic, where it forms a sad prelude to the episode of the golden cup stolen from a dragon’s hoard), we learn that an entire unnamed northern tribe has been decimated by war, with only one man left alive. He carries the people’s treasure (gold, weapons, and even a harp) into a nearby cave as a final gesture of remembrance, uttering these elegiac words to the earth itself before he, too, is carried off by a lonely death. (The hidden treasure is later discovered and appropriated by a dragon, a supernatural beast which is often associated with the Apocalypse in Christian tradition).


…there were many treasures stored inside the earth-house, since long ago some nameless man had carefully hidden there the whole rich legacy of his noble people. Death had taken them all in earlier times and the only one who survived, the last of their race, the mourning guardian, expected the same fate for himself: he knew that his joy in the huge treasure would be brief.

A barrow stood waiting, on a wide headland by the sea-waves, its entrance well hidden. Into it the keeper of the treasure had carried all the gold and riches. His words were few:

„Now, earth, hold what earls once owned and can no more. Listen! it was taken from you at first, by good men. War has taken every one of my people; they all went down to death, their joys in the hall at an end.

I have none left to carry a sword or polish the golden cups. The company of men has gone. The hard helmet must be stripped of its gold plate; and the polisher sleeps who should make the metal war-mask gleam; the coat of mail that withstood all sword-bites when the shield collapsed, decays like its warrior. Nor may linked chain-mail travel far and wide on the chieftain’s back beside his warriors. No delight in the harp, the resounding wood; no excellent hawk flying through the hall; no swift horse stamping in the courtyard. Death has emptied the earth of many races.“

And so he mourned as he joylessly wandered through day and night, all alone, until death’s flood covered his heart.

Translation: B. Bagby (based on E.T. Donaldson)

Upcoming Concerts

13 and 14 March 2020
Institute for Advanced Studies, Princeton NJ (USA)
Benjamin Bagby's Beowulf
– Postponed due to Coronavirus concerns

April 2020
Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, France
Workshop Roman de Fauvel – part III
– Postponed due to Coronavirus concerns

04 September 2021
Utrecht Early music festival, Utrecht (NL), Pieterskerk, 3 p.m.
Words of Power – Charms, Riddles and Elegies of the Medieval Northlands

See full concert schedule



Benjamin Bagby's teaching activities in 2019

In March 2019, Benjamin will give two weekend courses on the solo songs of Philippe le Chancelier (d. 1236). The courses are being hosted by the Centre de Musique Médiévale de Paris. Dates: 9-10 and 30-31 March.
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After retiring from his teaching position at the University of Paris - Sorbonne, where he taught between 2005 and 2018 in the professional masters program, Benjamin Bagby continues to travel widely in 2019 to teach practical workshops for young professionals:

Folkwang Universität der Künste (Essen-Werden, Germany).
Benjamin has joined the faculty of this renowned masters program for liturgical chant performance and medieval music. The dates of his courses in 2019: 5-7 April; 26-28 April; 17-19 May; 30 May–01 June.
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For the second year in a row, Benjamin will teach an intensive course in the 8th International Course on Medieval Music Performance (Besalú, Spain): Songs of the troubadours (for singers and instrumentalists).
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Amherst Early Music Festival (Connecticut College, New London CT) 21-28 July:
An intensive course on the solo cansos of the Occitan troubadours, with a focus on songs from the great Milan songbook Bibl. Ambr. R71 sup. (for singers and instrumentalists).
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